Astronomers believe that studying the moon may just be the key to learning more about how the early universe was formed with the first stars and galaxies. A group of astronomers who are headed up by Dr. Benjamin McKinley of the Curtin University’s ARC Center of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3-D) and the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) have been using a radio telescope to analyze the moon to see if they can locate any signals from hydrogen atoms that would have formed with the early universe.
As Phys.org reports, Dr. McKinley explained, “Before there were stars and galaxies, the universe was pretty much just hydrogen, floating around in space. Since there are no sources of the optical light visible to our eyes, this early stage of the universe is known as the cosmic dark ages.”
To learn more about the cosmic dark ages, these astronomers have been using the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) radio telescope in the hopes that they will be able to detect some of these hydrogen atoms. According to Dr. McKinley, if they discover even the faintest of signals, they will hopefully be able to determine whether their theories about the formation of the universe are accurate.
“If we can detect this radio signal it will tell us whether our theories about the evolution of the universe are correct.”
As Dr. McKinley noted, when you get inside your car and turn on different stations, the sounds you hear are all coming from radio waves that have been converted into sounds that you can hear. Radio telescopes like the Murchison Widefield Array do just the same thing and convert ancient radio signals, which astronomers can then use to form clear images of what space looks like.
“The radio telescope, the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) which is located in the Western Australian desert far away from earth-based FM radio stations, takes the radio signals from space and which we can then convert into images of the sky.”
Such radio signals, especially ones from the infant universe, are exceedingly weak, especially when compared with other objects in space that are particularly bright. Astronomers have devised a way to deal with this situation, however, which is to analyze the brightness of the sky and average it out. And by using the moon as a reference in terms of shape and brightness, they were able to carefully determine the brightness of the Milky Way.
With further research, astronomers believe that this brightness map of the Milky Way will help them to finally detect hydrogen signals so they can learn more about the early universe.
The new study which demonstrates how the moon is able to help astronomers understand the early universe has been published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.